Can Someone with Dementia Vote?

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In case you missed the news, there is an election coming up on November 3rd in the United States. In Ohio, early voting has begun both in-person and by mail.  


I know what you are thinking: “MY LOVED ONE HAS DEMENTIA! SHE IS NOT CAPABLE OF VOTING!”  Not so fast, Dear Care Partner. By law, cognitive impairment does not disqualify a person from voting. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease does not disqualify a registered voter from casting his vote. 


There was an article in the New York Times last week on this very subject:  Having Dementia Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Vote. According to Charles Sabatino, director of the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging, as quoted in that article,“‘Incapacity to follow a recipe and cook dinner doesn’t mean incapacity to vote. The inability to remember your grandchildren’s names doesn’t mean you can’t vote.’”


 As the Times then notes, all that is required is the ability to express a preference. In order to vote, a person with or without dementia need answer only two questions:

  1.  Do you want to vote?
  2. Of these candidates on this ballot, which one do you prefer?
That’s it. That’s all it takes. BUT, you say, he can’t read! Well, that’s where you come in. You are allowed to assist your loved one while voting. Assist, not make decisions for him. Assist, not tell him for whom he should vote. Check out the American Bar Association Guide to Assisting Cognitively Impaired Individuals With Voting for information on how to help your loved one cast a vote. Pay attention to what these lawyers tell you:

Your opinion of a person’s choice—their vote and rationale—is not relevant. If the individual indicates a choice among available ballot selections, their reasons for such choice are not relevant. The helpers’ opinion of the choice is not relevant. What matters is that the person for whom you provide support is allowed to vote and his or her preferences are respected. 

It is permissible to offer support in reading and marking the ballot. You should only mark the ballot according to what the person indicates is his or her choice. If a person cannot communicate a choice, you may not mark that person’s ballot. If a person communicates a choice on some ballot items (e.g., election of a president), but not others (e.g. election of a Senator), you may mark only those ballot items for which a choice was communicated.


In other words, if your loved one with dementia asks you to write in “Miss Piggy” for President of the United States, then your job is to write “Miss Piggy” on the appropriate line, even though you prefer to write in “Mister Rogers” on your own ballot. There is no law that prevents you from writing in “Miss Piggy,” and no one is allowed to ask you why– you have to honor your loved one’s choice.


One more thing: it’s okay if filling out the ballot at home takes a few days. Not everyone has the stamina to make those decisions all at once, so you can break up the task into chunks if you want. 


Here is a good website that will tell you how to cast your vote either in-person or by mail in Ohio:  Voting Instructions for Ohio, and here is a link to the Ohio Secretary of State’s website, which will take you to your own Board of Elections website, where you can learn where to vote in person and see a sample of your ballot:  Ohio Voting Location Search by County.

Voting is important.  If your loved one is registered to vote and can answer the two questions, then you should do everything you (legally) can to help make it happen. In the United States, we vote because we can.

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